Put A Little Spring into Your Wine List
Just as you update your food menus as the seasons change, it's also good to think about making changes to your wine list. As winter rolls into spring, you'll notice your diners may move away from ordering big red wines like cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and amarone or heavier Napa chardonnay in favor of lighter reds like pinot noir, narello mascalese and cinsault, as well as brighter whites like sauvignon blanc and also crisp, dry rosés.
"The food dictates change to a lighter style, but your body starts to crave a lighter style, too," said Charles Ford, general manager and wine director at Chicago's vegetable-focused, farm-to-table restaurant, Daisies, which was set to open in late winter. "People start craving a different wine and within the food culture in general, when spring came around, that's when all the wines were done being fermented and you'd naturally get something new."
As temperatures warm up, spring vegetables start appearing on menus across the country to much excitement. You'll start using more English peas, asparagus, green beans, radishes, fava beans and more wonderful vegetables that take the place of heartier produce like potatoes, squash and turnips. Those vegetables impart more of a zippy mouthfeel and you'll want wines that go with that.
"In winter, you need something to wrap itself around fatty flavors or braised meats like a big Napa cab," Ford said. "Flavors in early spring vegetables, even though bright and flavorful, they're light and delicate. To accentuate that, try a lighter-style white or an easygoing dry rosé."
One way to gauge wines that would match more appropriately with the lighter fare is to seek out lower-alcohol wines around 12.5 to 13 percent. Gruner vetliner, vinho verde, albariño, pinot grigio, dry Riesling, New Zealand pinot noir and cabernet franc from Chinon in France's Loire Valley all fall into this category. While you may think of your more traditional wines, you can also look at Champagnes made by lesser-known producers to get a better value and also Sherry, the Spanish fortified wine.
"Sherry is a wonderful addition to any menu, but it has to be the right style of Sherry," Ford added. "It can get sweet and syrupy, but the other end of the spectrum exists as well, in the Fino category. Yes, the alcohol is a bit higher, but it's a fun, full-bodied white wine and the acid and dry fruit flavors work well. I like to pair it with soups and some chilled soups."
Essentially, you want to look for bright fruit and vegetal flavors — mint, eucalyptus, fresh herbs like tarragon, rosemary and thyme — in wines to best pair with all the fresh produce coming into your kitchen, like white Rioja or whites from the Loire Valley.
"You're looking for wines that represent the freshness of the vegetables you're serving," Ford said. "When you're serving a crostini with English pea puree and radishes, what better than to have a wine that when you drink it, it reminds you of fresh green fruit and herbs? That's a beautiful complement."